NCAA Football News

BYU Football Recruiting: 4 Reasons Why Osa Masina Should Sign with Cougars

Osa Masina is considered Utah's top 2015 prep prospect and is one of the nation's elite linebackers. The Brighton standout is a 4-star outside linebacker and has received offers from SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big 10 programs.

Masina announced his top eight schools in late April, but BYU didn't make the cut. A lot can change in the eight months between now and national signing day, and his opinion of the Cougars will hopefully change also.

Here are four reasons why Masina should choose to become a Cougar.

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Duke Football: Previewing the Defense for 2014

Defense has long been a problem for Duke. Even prior to David Cutcliffe’s arrival, the Blue Devils were competent on offense, but perpetually undermined any positives by giving up huge point totals to opponents.

Happily, Cutcliffe has proven to be more than just an offensive genius. Under his watch, the defense has improved by leaps and bounds.

Unfortunately, the numbers don’t look good for Duke’s defense going forward.

The good news is that the Blue Devils return six starters from 2013. The bad news is that only three of those returning starters are seniors. Therefore, the defense may have earned a season’s worth of experience, but the players are still fairly young and prone to mistakes.

The three returning senior starters all play up front defensively. That’s a positive because Duke’s defensive line is a serious concern.

Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento were all huge parts of Duke’s front four last season. With those three linemen out of the picture, returning starter at nose guard Jamal Bruce will need new running mates on the defensive front.

Fellow seniors Dezmond Johnson and Jonathan Woodruff will attempt to help with the pass rush from the defensive end position. Both have some game experience and should be extremely familiar with the defensive system.

Meanwhile, junior Carlos Wray and sophomore AJ Wolf will seek to play beside Bruce on the interior part of the line.

All in all, there are a number of players looking to fill the vacated starting spots. Whether or not these players will generate a reliable pass rush and clog up running lanes is up for debate. None of them jump out as supremely talented or primed for a breakout year.

To be honest, Duke’s defensive line last year wasn’t particularly good.

This season, the defensive front almost certainly won’t be any better. In fact, it’s entirely possible that this defensive front will be noticeably worse than the 2013 one.

So, a weakness from last season may have gotten even weaker. If the defensive line fails to at least hassle the quarterback and slow the run game, it will put increased pressure on the defenders behind them.

Fortunately for Duke, there will be consistency, experience and talent at the linebacker position. Kelby Brown and David Helton are both returning starters from last season. Brown and Helton are also both seniors.

Most importantly, the two linebackers anchoring Duke’s defense are extremely skilled players.

Last season, Helton led the Blue Devils with 133 tackles. Brown was third on the team with 120. Helton and Brown each had one sack. Brown, who blitzed more frequently, also had 11 tackles for a loss.

Their experience and skill in the center of the Duke defense will be critical. The leadership from the linebacker position will be needed to make up for new faces on the defensive line and youth in the secondary.

The secondary is an interesting one. As with the defensive line, graduation robbed Duke’s secondary of key players. Both starting cornerbacks from 2013, Ross Cockrell and Garett Patterson, are gone.

The loss of Cockrell, who was named All-ACC twice in his career and drafted by the Buffalo Bills, is particularly devastating given his ability to take away a team’s best receiver.

Breon Borders and Bryon Fields will step in as Duke’s new cornerbacks. Though both are just sophomores, they did earn playing time last season. Ideally, that experience—limited as it was—will pay dividends because there isn’t much depth behind those two at corner.

Duke does have a bevy of safeties that logged significant minutes last season. Even though all of those players are underclassmen, their game-time experience will be crucial, as they’ll likely be called upon to help out Borders and Fields in coverage.

Jeremy Cash was second on the team in tackles and emerged as one of the premier safeties in the ACC. Sophomores DeVon Edwards, Deondre Singleton and Corbin McCarthy as well as junior Dwayne Norman will all shuffle in and out of the Duke secondary.

Such depth at the safety position should also enable the Blue Devils to come up with interesting schemes in the secondary.

Though young, those players have seen enough action to be battle-tested. Duke will need to figure out a way to use the depth at safety to cover for the inexperience at corner. If the secondary plays as a unit, it will be formidable enough to prevent big plays and give the defensive front more time to mount a pass rush.

The most troubling thing for Duke, however, is that the Blue Devils lived and died on defense by forcing turnovers last year. That’s a stat that’s difficult to maintain from year to year. Duke amassed 18 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles in 2013. Many of those changes in possession were timely.

In 2014, Duke will once again need some bounces to go their way on defense.

All told, Duke’s defense is a bit shaky in spots, but sports two reliable veteran linebackers and a variety of young secondary players with potential.

If the secondary can cohesively cover its weak spots, then the Blue Devils’ defensive line will be the only questionable cog in the defensive machinery.

So long as the front four can at least limit the run game and get some semblance of a pass rush, Duke should be able to mount enough resistance to at least slow opposing offenses.

As with 2013, the Blue Devils offense will be the star of the show. If the defensive unit can create a little havoc and prevent opponents from scoring over 30 points per game, Duke should have another fantastic season.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Reasons 5-Star DE Josh Sweat Will Sign with Virginia Tech

The Virginia Tech Hokies have taken some hits with their in-state recruiting recently, but the program has the right combination of good relationships and roster openings to land 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat.

Sweat is the second-ranked player in the country and the top player in the state of Virginia, according to 247Sports, so landing him would be a huge win for the Hokies.

Tech is still reeling from the loss of major in-state defensive prospects like Quin Blanding, Andrew Brown and Derrick Nnadi to fellow ACC schools last recruiting cycle, which makes signing the Chesapeake, Virginia, native the team’s absolute top priority.

But while the Hokies might not have the best recent record with major prospects, Sweat already seems to be leaning their way. 

Sweat told 247Sports’ Evan Watkins that he plans to use one of his official visits to stop in Blacksburg (subscription required), and the recruiting site’s Crystal Ball prediction puts Tech in a tight battle with Florida State for his services.

The Hokies lost out on a very similar head-to-head matchup with the Seminoles last year—FSU’s Odell Haggins outmaneuvered Tech to land Nnadi on national signing day in 2013.

However, this time around, the Hokies should have enough to make a big splash and sign Sweat.

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25 Recruits with the Highest Ceilings in the 2015 Recruiting Class

Recruits with high ceilings are full of potential. Right now, they're raw in an area or two, but they have the natural talent to become good players after they get developed.

The 2015 class features a ton of prospects whose ceilings are sky-high. A few offensive tackles need to work on their technique, but they display exceptional athleticism to dominate. This list also features a few quarterbacks who just need to become more consistent with their mechanics in order to be great.

Also, even a few 5-star recruits will be discussed.

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Top Ten 2015 Recruits Who Are Not from Traditional Hotbeds

Traditional hotbeds such as Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and Alabama always see droves of college coaches checking out their top recruits. Even states such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Arizona, South Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia can be considered hotbeds today.

However, coaches need to be willing to go to nontraditional places to find the best talent. The 2015 class has a few recruits who aren't from the usual digs.

A 4-star defensive tackle hails from Canada, while Texas went to New Mexico for a 4-star quarterback. Plus, Hawaii and Connecticut each have two prospects are on this list.

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Georgia Football: 5 Reasons Why the Bulldogs' Defense Will Improve in 2014

It’s been a very interesting past couple of days for the Georgia Bulldogs. Head coach Mark Richt announced they have dismissed Tray Matthews from the team, which makes him the third defensive player to leave Athens this offseason.

Losing Matthews is a huge blow to the defense because he was the best safety on the team and he had the most experience. And the way the defense struggled last season, they can’t afford anymore losses of personnel.

That said, the defense is not a lost cause. 2014 marks a new beginning for the unit, and with a new coordinator as well as a talented set of players returning, they will be a much better group than what they were in 2013.

And here are five reasons why.

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Notre Dame Offers QBs Travis Waller, Jarrett Stidham to Replace Blake Barnett

Notre Dame lost prized quarterback prospect Blake Barnett on Wednesday when he ended a six-month commitment to the Fighting Irish by posting a statement announcing his decision on his Twitter account. Head coach Brian Kelly and his staff swiftly responded Thursday, taking a proactive approach in an attempt to replace him.

The team extended scholarship offers to a pair of 4-star passers. Notre Dame's new targets are Travis Waller (Anaheim, California) and Jarrett Stidham (Stephenville, Texas):

Less than 24 hours after losing a promising piece of the 2015 class, Fighting Irish fans can take solace in the fact that other options have quickly surfaced. Both players are at uniquely different spots in their respective stages of recruitment.

Waller, a 6'3", 190-pound Servite High School standout, has seen interest mount since mid-May. Offers from Cal, Maryland and Alabama have arrived in recent weeks.

Now that Notre Dame is in the mix, it's fair to say he's one the country's hottest recruits. Waller previously held offers from Arizona, Washington, Tennessee and Northwestern, among others.

He completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. Waller flashed excellent mobility in the process, rushing for 1,293 yards and another 13 scores.

Waller is rated No. 3 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings. Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is his top target at Servite, and the 4-star recruit expects to visit South Bend next week, according to 247Sports' Barton Simmons (subscription required).

Notre Dame may decide to go all-in on trying to secure the duo as a package deal.

Stidham, a 6'3.5", 190-pound prospect from the Lone Star State, doesn't present quite the rushing threat that Waller incorporates into his game but remains dangerous as a runner. He gained 821 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground as a junior.

His prowess as a passer places him above Waller in 247Sports' rankings, which rate Stidham No. 2 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks. He completed 61 percent of pass attempts for 2,613 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2013.

Stidham displayed serious athleticism as a sophomore when he took snaps at wide receiver. Before shifting behind center, he caught 50 passes for 819 yards and 11 scores in 2012.

Unlike Waller, he has announced a collegiate commitment.

Stidham pledged to Texas Tech in March. He chose the Red Raiders over a lengthy list of options that includes Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida and Texas.

Waller and Stidham are the latest quarterbacks to land on Notre Dame's radar but may not be the last. Kelly is likely to expand his options after the unexpected departure of Barnett.

The next step in the process will be to establish a rapport with both quarterbacks, who may be interested to understand why the Irish didn't target them during earlier stages of the 2015 recruiting cycle. Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury is more than likely immediately on a mission to lock down Stidham and alleviate any concerns the in-state star might have about his commitment to the Red Raiders.

With Barnett out of the picture, Notre Dame has quickly turned the page. Thursday's developments represent a strong step toward stabilizing the situation and getting things back on track for a recruiting class that currently rates 20th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mizzou Football Team Takes Break from Offseason Workouts for Paintball Battle

There's no better way for football team to build camaraderie than to go into battle together.

Each offseason, the Missouri Tigers—players and coaches—take a break from their offseason workouts on the field to engage in a friendly competition. 

This year's competition: paintball.

Judging by the video, the paintball battle was a success.

[Gary Pinkel, h/t College Spun]

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College Football's Sleeper Teams to Watch in 2014

Yes, this is a sleeper teams slideshow. Yes, this inevitably means all of these teams will fall flat on their faces in 2014 because jinxing power knows no prejudice. 

For that, I am so, so sorry. 

But it's June, and it's still fun to think outside the usual favorites to find a team that could break out. How many folks had Michigan State finishing the 2013-14 season as one of the four best teams in the country? Or Duke making it to the ACC championship?

Which teams will emerge as sleepers this year? Our answers are in the following slides. 

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Jameis Winston's Girlfriend Shows She Has Game with 1-Handed TD Catch

Football never stops for Jameis Winston.

The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was working on his passing with his girlfriend, Breion Allen. As she showed, she can make him look good with a slick one-handed catch.

This wasn't the first time that Winston and Allen have connected for a touchdown. This video was posted last summer:

Not to be outdone by his girlfriend, Winston also posted an impressive video of himself catching his own passes:

Which was more impressive, Allen's one-handed catch or Winston's one-man show?

[Jameis Winston]

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Multiple Big-Name College Football Stadium Replicas Get Made out of Legos

Legos can make just about anything, which is a good thing for sports fans.

College football has many notable stadiums throughout the country. Thanks to Etsy.com, fans can purchase select stadium replicas made from Legos.  

Of course, something like that won't come cheap. The stadium replicas are being sold for $400, so fans better be prepared to spend some money if they want to add an awesome collectible.

Not every stadium was lucky enough to be made out of Legos. Below are the ones that are currently up for sale.

 

Bryant–Denny Stadium (Alabama)

Jordan–Hare Stadium (Auburn)

Sanford Stadium (Georgia)

Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Oklahoma)

Michigan Stadium (Michigan)

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (USC)

[Etsy.com, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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Tennessee Football: Analyzing Volunteers' Top Five 2015 Recruiting Targets

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones landed one of the nation's top recruiting classes in 2014, and if he's going to repeat the feat, he'll have to close the deal on some of UT's top remaining targets.

The Volunteers are off to a solid start, as their class of 11 commitments is currently ranked ninth nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

That haul includes one 5-star and four 4-star prospects.

Though there are some early concerns (see: quarterback recruiting), it's difficult to complain about what appears to be another fast start on the trail.

UT has positioned itself quite nicely to restock the pantry on the offensive and defensive lines—a major necessity for this year's class. The Vols have already landed the nation's top-rated wide receiver in Preston Williams as well as the state's top player in Jauan Jennings.

A class that finished with 32 commits last year should be followed up by one that reaches "the mid-20s" in number, as Jones told Bleacher Report a couple of weeks ago. To reach that number, Jones still has more than half the class to fill.

Some of the nation's top players have Tennessee on the tips of their tongues, and it'll be interesting to see how many believe in Jones' pitch and ink their scholarship papers for the Vols.

The basis for ranking these players combines their caliber as prospects, Tennessee's desperate-need positions and the mutual interest between them and UT.

Let's break down the Vols' top five targets on the cusp of camp season and summer evaluations.

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4-Star QB Recruit Kai Locksley Tweets Top 6 Schools

Class of 2015 "athlete" Kai Locksley, whom many expect to play quarterback at the next level, narrowed down his potential college destinations by tweeting his top six schools in no particular order Thursday afternoon.

Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, his list includes nearby schools such as Maryland and Virginia Tech along with national blue-bloods in Auburn, Texas, Oregon and Florida State:

Locksley is the son of Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, which gives the Terps an obvious advantage in his recruitment.

Some young prospects prefer to avoid playing for their family members—incoming Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst turned down his uncle Paul, who is the head coach at Pittsburgh, this past cycle—but Kai has always sounded tacitly open to playing for his dad.

"[The most important factor to me is] the relationship with their quarterbacks coach," Locksley said in April, per Pete Volk of Testudo Times. "That's going to be my father, whoever it is, for the next four years. I've got to know I can trust him, I've got to know he can develop me and have me ready for my aspirations to go in the NFL."

How can he trust anyone more than his dad?

But that doesn't mean this process is over. Far from it. Locksley is the No. 165 overall player on the 247Sports Composite, so teams with richer football traditions than Maryland have been in hot pursuit.

However, as B/R's Tyler Donahue was quick to point out, three of the six teams Locksley listed already have QBs committed this cycle:

There is no rule against signing multiple quarterback in one class, but some players prefer to avoid that because of the obvious conflict of interest with regard to playing time.

Texas already has a commitment from 4-star QB Zach Gentry, Auburn already has a commitment from 4-star QB Tyler Queen and Florida State has a commitment from 3-star QB De'Andre Johnson

Oregon, meanwhile, is still without a committed signal-caller but is the favorite to land 4-star dual-threat QB Blake Barnett, who just de-committed from Notre Dame.

That leaves Maryland and Virginia Tech as the two places with the clearest path to playing time, although both of those schools did land quarterbacks in the class of 2014. As his 247Sports "Crystal Ball" currently stands, Locksley is a 72 percent favorite to end up at UMD.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Likely Matchups for the 2014 SEC Championship Game

No matter if it's instant classics like Alabama's 32-28 win over Georgia in 2012 or Auburn vanquishing Missouri in last year's barn-burner, the SEC Championship Game recently has been extremely exciting.

Over the past eight seasons, the game essentially has been a play-in for the BCS National Championship Game.

Heading into 2014, the road to the SEC West likely will run through the state of Alabama once again as the Crimson Tide and Tigers appear to be the class of the conference.

But there's a also a dark horse trying to gallop to Atlanta for the first time.

In the East, Missouri has lost too much to repeat last year's improbable run. With Florida trying to rebound from a 4-8 season, South Carolina and Georgia should duke it out for a berth.

But as last year's surprise matchup of Tigers proved, this conference is so deep, nothing is a guarantee.

Much of the star power that carried the league for the past few years is gone, and SEC teams will look for their next crop of stars to get them to the conference championship.

Let's take an early peek at the most likely matchups in Atlanta.

 

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College Football Coaches Who Won't Be at the Same School in 2015

In some ways, even though it may appear differently, every coach on this list has been included as a compliment.

Four of the seven are coaches I think will be upgraded. They are currently coaching at one "tier" of FBS programs, but after a good season in 2014, I project they might be in store for a promotion.

The other three are coaches who will be fired. However, unlike the other coaches who will no doubt get fired during or after this season—here's looking at you, Tim Beckman—I think they have done enough in their careers to land on their feet and get another FBS gig.

That belief is based on a few things. It's not just how they've fared at their current job—although that is certainly a big factor—but how they fared in the previous job, whom they have mentored under in the past, what sort of circumstances they've dealt with, etc.

Sound off below and let me know who I missed. 

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Why Recent Transfers Are Actually Good News for Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

If South Carolina's offense is going to take on more of an old-school Steve Spurrier feel in 2014, it's going to need plenty of wide receivers to do so.

There's a problem, though—some of those wide receivers are leaving.

Kwinton Smith left the program earlier in the offseason, and according to Josh Kendall of The State, the Gamecocks lost sophomore Jody Fuller to a transfer this week.

Fuller, who is seeking more playing time, according to Kendall, caught only one pass last year for five yards but was a hot prospect coming out of Monroe, North Carolina, earning four stars from 247Sports.com.

It's a problem from a quantity standpoint, but it could be good news from a quality standpoint for the Gamecocks. The pieces of the puzzle at wide receiver could be coming together with talented and versatile players, as David Cloninger of The State noted on Twitter.

Still, Gamecocks have Shaq Roland, Nick Jones, Damiere Byrd, K.J. Brent and Pharoh Cooper. Signed three this spring.

— David Cloninger (@DCTheState) June 4, 2014

Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd are known commodities.

Roland came on strong late last season, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns over the last three games of the season and proving that he can live up to the 4-star hype that followed him to Columbia. The 6'1", 185-pounder has great hands, runs crisp routes and can get behind the defense in a hurry.

Alongside Roland will be Byrd, who caught 33 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. At 5'9", 166 pounds, he has the size of a prototypical slot receiver but will likely line up outside for the Head Ball Coach. The one-two punch of Roland and Byrd will be difficult for defensive coordinators to scheme against, particularly due to flexibility.

Pharoh Cooper, a 5'11", 200-pound sophomore who had three catches last season, will likely line up in that slot position for the Gamecocks. But it's his versatility that has the coaching staff excited.

"Pharoh Cooper is a really good football player that can play numerous spots and will continue to improve," said quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus.

South Carolina's receiving corps is, for the most part, undersized. The one exception is 6'4", 190-pound junior K.J. Brent. He only had two catches for 13 yards last year, but he has the size to present matchup problems for undersized defensive backs and has the speed and quickness to be a weapon underneath.

Nick Jones is interesting as well. At 5'7", 174 pounds, he's best suited to play the slot and can be a big-time factor on screens. 

With Cooper starting in the slot and both Byrd and Jones able to slide in there, too, it will allow Spurrier to mix and match his wide receivers within formations, exploiting matchups and helping out first-year starting quarterback Dylan Thompson.

There isn't a ton of experience in the South Carolina wide receiving corps, but what it lacks in game snaps, it makes up for in versatility.

That versatility has created a logjam atop the depth chart, which makes a few transfers nothing to be concerned about.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 


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Ty Isaac Transfer Is Nice for Michigan, but Success Is Still in O-Line's Hands

Michigan's backfield has officially been upgraded. Whether that upgrade goes into effect this year or next remains to be seen. 

On Thursday, USC transfer Ty Isaac tweeted that he had, in fact, enrolled at Michigan. The news comes about a month after it was announced he would be leaving USC to be closer to his family (h/t John Taylor of College Football Talk). 

News of Isaac's transfer began Wednesday night, courtesy of Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports

Isaac is seeking a hardship waiver from the NCAA because of his family situation, though that waiver has yet to be approved. If he is deemed eligible to play this year, the Wolverines will have three quality running backs: Isaac, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. 

That list is as good as any in the Big Ten, if not the best. With first-year coordinator Doug Nussmeier running the offense, Michigan's ground game suddenly looks legit. 

But there's one question mark the Wolverines must overcome: the offensive line. 

The unit was inconsistent at best last year. In losses to Michigan State and Nebraska, Michigan's offense averaged minus-35 yards rushing. Granted, sacks are grouped into that number, but the point remains: The O-line was getting abused off the ball. 

Michigan's best linemen—Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—are gone, too. Erik Magnuson, one of the returning linemen, has been held out with a shoulder injury. He will rejoin the team in time for preseason camp. 

Michigan's O-line was painfully inexperienced beyond Lewan and Schofield. This year's unit is still young, but players like Magnuson, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch have game reps under their belt now. 

"I can't all of a sudden make them older, so we have to make sure we do what we can do," offensive line coach Darrell Funk told Brian Bennett of ESPN.com. "We’re so young that if every day we can get better at something, we’ll have what we want." 

Playing together as a cohesive unit is a bigger deal for the offensive line than changing playbooks. There are, after all, only so many ways to block an opponent. 

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, however, the O-line showed during the spring game that it still has a long ways to go: 

Michigan struggled to run the ball at all times Saturday. Maybe that's a hat-tip to the team's defensive line, but it's also a knock on the offensive front five. You can hide a lot of things in a spring game situation. But you can't hide a failure to control the line of scrimmage.

There wasn't one offensive line grouping that looked anywhere near ready to push a Big Ten defensive front around. Not even close. Were there as many negative plays? No, probably not.

But there were still several. Far more than there should be.

Green, Smith and Isaac are talented backs. They're also only as good as the holes they have to run through. A first cut shouldn't be three yards behind the line of scrimmage. 

For that matter, quarterback Devin Gardner is an exciting player. So is tight end Devin Funchess. There's talent in Ann Arbor, no doubt about it. That's part of why the potential for this team to get back to double-digit wins is there. 

It's also what could make Michigan so frustrating. An offense starts and stops at the line of scrimmage. It's an important piece of the puzzle, just as Isaac is a piece. 

When those pieces fit together, you get a well-oiled machine. When they don't, you get, well, Michigan's 87th-ranked offense. 

Getting Isaac is an improvement, sure. He's just not the only improvement that has to be made. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.  

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Texas A&M Football: New Faces in 2014 You Need to Know

The Texas A&M football team is busy preparing for the upcoming 2014 season. There are a number of new players who are going to contribute to the Aggies' success in 2014 whom Aggies fans need to know about.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done a very good job of building the talent on the A&M roster. The Aggies have brought in consecutivetop-10 recruiting classes, and the effect of that infusion of talent should be apparent on the field this season. 

The Aggies will be a young team in 2014 but should be a very talented one. They will have the talent in place to compete for the SEC title, but the question is whether they will be mature enough to be able to put away games. 

This is a look at some of the new players who should make an impact in 2014. 

 

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UCLA Football: Bruins' Path to Beat the Vegas Odds and Make the Playoffs

Oddsmakers seem to like UCLA's potential for the upcoming 2014 college football season. But even so, the experts have the Bruins just outside the top four—the magic number necessary to gain entry into the field of the College Football Playoff.

Via Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com, UCLA is one of nine teams on which Bovada posted odds to reach the first Playoff. The Bruins face the worst odds of the nine at 12/5. 

Behind the tone set by head coach Jim Mora and the play of Heisman Trophy contender Brett Hundley at quarterback, UCLA is both trendy and smart as a pick to beat the odds and make the field. 

Championship talk is not something the Bruins are shying away from, because as Hundley explained, they buy into the work they're putting in to reach that goal.  

"Nobody sees what we do at 6 o'clock in the morning or 6 o'clock at night," Hundley said. "It's a process."

For Hundley, a key part of the process is improving his pocket presence, reading through his progressions before resorting to the rush. He took 16 sacks in the Bruins' three losses in 2013—44 percent of the No. 109-nationally ranked 36 total sacks UCLA gave up all season. 

Defending divisional champions Arizona State and Stanford were responsible for nine and four of those sacks respectively. The Cardinal are again on the Bruins' cross-division docket, and UCLA travels to Arizona State in a rematch of last year's de facto Pac-12 South title tilt. 

The third team responsible for a UCLA loss in 2013 was Oregon. The Ducks are tabbed at even odds to qualify for the College Football Playoff, per Bovada.

Oregon used a key fumble on a Tony Washington strip of Hundley to gain momentum in the Ducks' 42-14 defeat of the Bruins last October. This year, Oregon visits the Rose Bowl in an early-season showdown that could be a Pac-12 Championship Game preview. 

The Oregon game was UCLA's first with a trio of true freshmen starting together on the offensive line. Joining Alex Redmond, a season-long starter, to face the Ducks were Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch. 

Their combined maturation, along with the return of Simon Goines from injury and the addition of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche, should greatly improve the line's consistency—and thus Hundley's productivity. 

Gaining more confidence and consistency in the backfield is more than about eliminating sacks for Hundley. As Bleacher Report's Darren Page demonstrates below from game film against Arizona, Hundley's tendency to scramble before going through all of his progressions sometimes prevented UCLA from breaking open the big play.  

Hundley should put up some monster passing numbers in his third year leading the Bruins offense, so long as he takes that next step forward in his development. And as he goes, so goes UCLA in its pursuit of a Playoff berth.  

An experienced defensive line and one of the more talented secondaries in the Pac-12 key the Bruins defense, but central to their Playoff pursuit is the development of the linebacking corps. 

Breakout star Myles Jack returns, but UCLA lost Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr—fixtures of the defense in the last two seasons—to the NFL.

But Mora said on the May 1 Pac-12 coaches' teleconference call that he sees high potential and depth in this unit. 

Per Pac-12.com

We're expected about the guys that are here. Eric Kendricks is a two-year returning starter and a great football player. We've got some younger guys step up: Kenny Orjioke...Aaron Wallace...Deon Hollins...Isaako Savaiinaea on the inside. Cameron Judge. Brought in a number of talented, talented recruits: A kid called Kenny Young from Louisiana, and a young man named Zach Whitley from Houston...We're real excited about our linebacking corps. We've got depth and we've got talent. 

That group will certainly play a big role in UCLA beating the College Football Playoff odds, as stopping the run will have to be a point of emphasis throughout 2014. 

Though the Bruins' rush defense was far from inadequate in 2013, there is significant room for improvement. Three of their worst performances against the run last season came against—you guessed it—Arizona State (223 yards) and Oregon (325 yards).

While UCLA contained Stanford to 192 total rushing yards, running back Tyler Gaffney brutalized the Bruins front seven with 171 yards. 

UCLA has a clear road map to the College Football Playoff, and the Bruins know their potential detours—but navigating that path successfully should lead them on the way to beating the odds. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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Alabama Football: Could the Crimson Tide's Defense Be in Decline?

Any history buff can tell you that "all good things must come to an end," a line that stems from Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem titled Troilus and Criseyde.

As far as we know, it holds true for everything, from a riveting book to a bowl of ice cream. Even six of the Seven Ancient Wonders eventually crumbled, leaving just the Great Pyramid in Giza to stand alone in Egypt, although time has worn away the majority of its façade.

The point is even the most stanch structures and strongest elements eventually weaken, and while such metaphors have been overused in sports, they’re also true.

So when the University of Alabama defense gave up 296 rushing yards to Auburn and 348 passing yards to Oklahoma, resulting in both of its defeats last season, many started to wonder if the Crimson Tide’s defense was starting to show signs of decline.

It’s a worthwhile question, especially considering how the game is becoming so offense-friendly thanks to the popularity of the no-huddle, spread and run-as-many-plays-as-you-can philosophies.

Even in the Southeastern Conference, which has long been thought of as the league with the best defensive play, last year’s numbers were nothing short of alarming. Whereas small increases and one-year aberrations had been the norm, 2013 was like a jump on a seismograph when an earthquake hits.

The 14 teams averaged 31.7 points, 432.5 yards of total offense and 197 rushing yards per game, all SEC records since it expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 1992.

Passing yards were up to 235.5 per game, exceeded only by the 245.1 in 2001.

On the flip side, the defensive statistical counterparts were all the highest the league had seen, and many of Alabama’s numbers were up as well. In the four big categories—total defense, passing efficiency defense, rushing defense and scoring defense—the Crimson Tide had their worst national rankings since Nick Saban’s first year at the Capstone in 2007.

The same was true in third-down defense, and Alabama had its worst showing yet under the coach in turnovers gained.

However, Saban hasn’t stood still since the Crimson Tide’s shot at a three-peat fell short.

First off, he made major changes to the coaching staff, moving defensive coordinator Kirby Smart back to being the position coach of the safeties. He got Kevin Steele to turn down an offer to become the defensive coordinator at Louisville and oversee Alabama's interior linebackers, and he rehired Bo Davis as the defensive line coach.

Alabama’s recruiting strategy has also been changing, targeting interior linebackers who can drop back into coverage like C.J. Mosley, and safety/linebacker hybrids to play in the middle as part of the nickel and dime packages. Defensive line depth became a higher priority, and the Crimson Tide coaches went all out to land the two cornerbacks topping their wish list at the position this year: Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey.

Consequently, Alabama will head into the fall with a staggering nine defensive players who were considered 5-star recruits according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, and it's pretty obvious what Saban is looking for out of them. 

“Just consistency with those guys, understanding their run fits, understanding their pass coverage all the time, how to do it, being consistent with it,” Saban said about the interior linebackers at one point this spring.

“Eddie was having a great spring and probably our best corner, most consistent,” he said when sophomore Eddie Jackson sustained a knee injury.

“I think we have a lot of experienced players. (D.J.) Pettway and (Jarran) Reed add a lot of depth and athleticism to that group,” Saban said about the defensive line. “A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen were both freshmen last year, and I always say that you make the most improvement between your freshman and sophomore year.”

While it appears to be too early to say that Alabama’s D is in decline, Saban and Smart’s best unit may be behind them as some consider the 2011 defense to be one of the best in college football history—and the numbers back that up. Nevertheless, avoiding setbacks like the defensive backs had in last year’s 49-42 shootout win at Texas A&M would be an important step this season.

That’s tricky, especially considering how many standout players have left early for the NFL during the past few years, but the 2014 defense should only get better as the season progresses and the younger talent develops. 

“We’ve just got to keep working and developing depth,” Saban said at the end of spring. “[I] feel like I have a few more guys that have a good understanding of what we’re doing. We just seem to not be making as many mental errors as we have in the past at this time.”

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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